THE MCA SYDNEY’S “LIGHT SHOW” ILLUMINATES THE ART OF SEEING

David Batchelor “Magic Hour,” 2004/2007
(© the artist 2015 Photo: Marcus J Leith)

“Light Show” is organised by the Hayward Gallery, London in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and is curated by Cliff Lauson, Hayward Gallery Curator. At the MCA, the exhibition features 19 works from the 1960s to the present day by 17 major international artists including James TurrellDavid BatchelorConrad ShawcrossJim CampbellCarlos Cruz-DiezBill Culbert, Dan Flavin, Ceal Floyer, Jenny Holzer, Ann Veronica Janssens, Brigitte Kowanz, Anthony McCall, François Morellet, Iván Navarro, Katie Paterson, Leo Villareal, and Cerith Wyn Evans.

All the works are significant in their own right and worthy of mention, but there are a few works that really stand out. One of the first works in the exhibition is “Exploded View (Commuters)” (2011) by San Francisco-based artist Jim Campbell who has used 1152 LEDs to create a three-dimensional animated light sculpture that has to be seen to be believed. Another work that defies belief is British-born America artist Anthony McCall’s “You and I Horizontal” (2005) which uses sing a video projector, haze machine, and computer scripting to create “solid light.” The unexpected feeling of warmth and energy that radiates and pulsates from the “breathing” light columns of Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans’ “S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (‘Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motive’s overspill…’)” (2010) is hard to ignore, as is Austrian artist Brigitte Kowanz’s wonderfully simple yet incredibly effective suspended staircase of fluorescent tube steps, “Light Steps” (1990). Offering a moment of rest from the more sensorially challenging works, French artist François Morellet’s incredibly elegant and beautiful deconstructed circle of light, “Lamentable” (2006), is a wonderfully calming expression of the meditative and contemplative potential of light.

One of the triumphs of “Light Show” is that all the works have a sense of being strongly linked to the multifaceted practices of artists with a wide variety of interests and skills beyond just that of light. A case in point is Scottish artist David Batchelor who is represented in the exhibition by “Magic Hour” (2004/2007), an installation of stacked back-to-front light boxes that radiates a mesmerizing, multi-coloured halo of light. Batchelor’s first interest is actually colour, not light. “All the work I’ve been making for over 20 years now has been concerned in one way or another with colour. But then of course you can’t separate colour from light,” he explains. “Some of the work I make uses illuminated colour, such as the work in this show. In fact about half my work uses illuminated colour, he says. “But it’s more a way for me to understand colour and certain types of colour than it is about light as a subject itself.”

Batchelor says that he thinks that all art is at some level about asking people to look more closely at the environment that they already inhabit. “It’s an invitation to look at the world that we’re in, or specific parts of it,” he says. The success of the MCA’s “Light Show” is that it not only invites the viewer to analyze and contemplate the effects that the works in the exhibition have on the characteristics and properties of the gallery space, but it also offers the viewer the opportunity to see and perceive the world they inhabit in a completely different and exciting way once they leave the exhibition.

“Light Show” is at the MCA in Sydney until July 5, 2015.